A Tribute to Jerry Thomas
In 2003, a stalwart group of mixologist gathered at the Plaza Hotel in New York, to pay tribute to Jerry Thomas as part of a "Slow Foods" sponsored presentation. I was proud to be included in this great group of legendary mixologists who were honoring "the" legendary mixologist.

Bartenders world-wide owe a debt of gratitude to Jerry Thomas, but unfortunately few modern bartenders know anything about him.

Born in 1830, Jerry Thomas is considered to be the Father of the Cocktail. This is not to say that he invented it, which he did not, but instead that he nurtured it, raised it, and in turn helped to introduce it to the world around him. By profession he was a bartender, and by reputation he was a showman. A combination of skills that we still see in place today behind many bars.

In 1862, "Professor" Thomas played an important role in the history of the cocktail. He published a book. This was the first recipe book for bartenders, as well as the first book to include recipes for the drink known as the "cocktail". The 236 recipes included in the book were broken down into categories, which included Punch, Egg Nog, Julep, Smash, Cobbler, Mull, Sangaree, Toddy, Sling, Fix, Sour, Flip, Negus, Shrub, Pousse Café, Cup, and several others. Almost hidden within this collection, was a listing of ten drink recipes which were referred to as "cocktails". Clearly they were just one style, among many other drinks that a bartender was expected to prepare. In later editions of this book, Mr. Thomas would double this count to a full twenty, as well as move it to the front of the book. Clearly the cocktail was building up steam, and Jerry Thomas was right there at the head of the train.

For all that Jerry Thomas did in these early days of the cocktail, precious little is actually known about him, but that doesn't deter us from remembering him, and recognizing his contribution to our craft.

Recently, I had the opportunity to participate in a very special event to pay tribute to Jerry Thomas and the cocktails that he prepared.

Slow Food New York City Presents: A Tribute to "Professor" Jerry Thomas Father of the Cocktail

March 3rd, 2003 The Plaza Hotel, New York City

The event was the brainchild of David Wondrich, and was brought to life by the Slow Food NYC. For those of you not familiar with the "Slow Food" movement, it is a world-wide organization, dedicated to reminding people of the honest pleasures of food. They celebrate the diversity of the table, the care of proper preparation, and the concern of a well managed environment.

The objectives of this event were to introduce people to some of the original drinks that bartenders would have served over a hundred years ago. Before commercial sour mixes; before plastic glassware; before bodyshots, slammers, and pick-up lines.

Eight different bartenders were invited to present at this event, and each were asked to select a cocktail from one of Mr. Thomas' books to prepare for the attendees. The setting for this sold-out event was the elegant and opulent "Oak Room" of the Plaza hotel at the edge of New York's Central Park, a fitting and appropriate location to celebrate these classic cocktails.

The cocktails presented at this event were:


Arrack Punch, presented by David Wondrich Combine in mixing glass:

  • 1-1/2 oz. Boven's Echter Arrak (116 proof)
  • 1 oz. Corbura Jamaican rum
  • 1/2 oz. lime juice
  • 1/2 oz. simple syrup
  • 3 oz. distilled water Shake well with finely-cracked ice, pour unstrained into tall glass and garnish with a few raspberries and wedges of orange. Lance with straw and serve. (Boven's Echter Arrak can be purchased from http://www.Macha-Rum.de)
  Blue Blazer, presented by Dale DeGroff
  • 1-1/2 oz. boiling water
  • 1-1/2 oz. Talisker Scotch whisky (warmed)
  • 1/4 oz. simple syrup
  • Lemon peel Warm two mugs with hot water. pour whiskey and boiling water in one mug, ignite the liquid with fire and, while blazing, pour the liquid from one mug to the other four or five times to mix. If done well, this will have the appearance of a continuous stream of fire. Prepare a London dock glass with syrup and lemon, and pour the flaming mixture into the glass.
  Brandy Crusta, presented by Ted "Dr. Cocktail" Haigh Cut a lemon in half. Pare full peel circumference off each half. Moisten glass lip with lemon juice and dip in extra fine sugar Insert lemon peel into glass Squeeze juice from pared lemons & set aside Mix cocktail shaker of crushed ice with:
  • 2 oz. Hennesy VSOP cognac
  • 1 tsp. Marie Brizard Orange Curacao
  • 1/2 tsp. fresh lemon juice
  • dash of Angostura Bitters Shake and strain into pre-prepared glass. Add 1 small lump of ice and serve.
  Gin Daisy, presented by Sasha Petraske Shake well with cracked ice:
  • 2 oz. Tanqueray gin
  • 2 dashes Grand Marnier
  • 2 dashes simple syrup
  • The juice of half a lemon Shake well, strain into large wineglass. Fill with seltzer.
  Japanese Cocktail, presented by Robert Hess
  • 2 oz. Hennessy VSOP cognac
  • 1 tablespoon of Monin orgeat syrup
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters Stir well with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a slice of lemon peel that has been twisted over the surface of the drink. Serve.
  Manhattan Cocktail, presented by George Papadakis Shake thoroughly with ice:
  • 1 oz. Wild Turkey straight rye whiskey
  • 2 oz. Martini & Rossi red vermouth
  • 2 dashes Grand Marnier
  • 3 dashes Angostura bitters Strain into wineglass. Add a quarter slice of lemon, and serve.
  Martinez Cocktail, presented by Gary Regan
  • 2 oz. Martini & Rossi red vermouth
  • 1 oz. Tanqueray Ten gin
  • 2 dashes Maraschino Luxardo
  • 1 dash Angostura bitters Pour the ingredients into an ice-filled mixing glass, and stir thoroughly for between 20 and 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and add the garnish.
  Tom & Jerry, presented by Audrey Saunders
  • 12 fresh eggs
  • 2 oz. of Coruba Jamaican rum
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
  • 8 tbsp. of Vanilla (high quality Madagascar)
  • 2 lbs. white sugar Beat egg yolks until they are thin as water, add sugar, rum spices, and vanilla while beating. Beat egg whites stiff. Mix in egg whites and stir until the mixture attains the consistency of a light batter. To Serve: Place 1 oz. (2 tbsp.) of batter in a mug. Add 1/2 oz. of Hennessy VSOP cognac and 1/2 oz. of Coruba Jamaican rum and fill with boiling milk. Dust with nutmeg.

A couple of these drinks you should recognize, the others you probably won't. As a whole, they represent an amazing cross-section of exciting and wonderful drinks. Each of them were carefully prepared to try to be as true as possible to the care and attention that the original bartenders would have used in preparing them for their customers.

One of the most fascinating things for me, as I served up the Japanese cocktail from behind the bar, was in talking with the attendees, and listening to what they were learning as they talked with each of the other bartenders. At the beginning of the evening, almost all of those I talked with mentioned that while they were definitely enjoying themselves, they were a little confused as to how a "cocktail party" fit within the overall "Slow Food" theme. But as the evening wore on the bartenders had a chance to explain to the guests their concepts on cocktails, drink mixing, and the artistry of bartending. By the close of the event it was clear that each attendee had learned something important about cocktails, and how many of the same culinary concepts that the Slow Food organization embraces for the preparation of food, can also apply to the preparation of cocktails.

Overall, the event was a resounding success. While this was perhaps the first event of its kind to be ever held, hopefully it will not be the last. It isn't uncommon to have large organized wine or beer events where attendees get a chance to talk with distributors and representatives as they sample, and learn about, the various products being offered. There is little reason why a similar approach can't work for the cocktail as well; my only hope is that such events would focus on the quality ingredients and preparation which reflect the importance of the Cuisine de Cocktail.

If you are interested in reading further about this event, you can refer to the following links:

The New York Times: Shaken, Stirred or Mixed, The Gilded Age Lives Again By William Grimes

(Or you can alternately access the text of this article here: http://www.kingcocktail.com/TimesMar2003.htm )

Beverage Media PROFESSOR JERRY THOMAS The Father of the Cocktail By Dale DeGroff

(And you can read some more of Dale's cocktail articles for Beverage Media here: http://www.bevaccess.com/cocktail_corner.html )

If you would like more information about the Slow Foods organization, you can check out the links below: